- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The system that lets foreigners enter the United States on student visas often becomes a visa-for-sale operation that has allowed terrorists to enter the country, according to a new study from a Harvard professor.
"In a very critical sense, the U.S. has delegated its role in selecting immigrants to thousands of institutions whose incentives do not coincide with the national interest," said George J. Borjas of his analysis of the public costs and benefits of foreign students at American schools.
Also yesterday, senators tried but failed to act quickly on a bill that would allow states to charge some illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates and allow illegal immigrant students to adjust their legal status.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, objected to the request, which would have required senators' unanimous consent, and asked for more time to read the bill.
The student-visa study was released at an event sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stricter immigration rules.
Mr. Borjas said 73,000 institutions in the country have the ability to issue I-20s, the forms that accompany a school's acceptance letter and allow someone to begin obtaining a student visa.
In San Diego there are 400, he said, including language and beauty schools, and the San Diego Golf Academy.
Some institutions, he said, "look and act an awful lot like visas-for-sale storefronts."
Several of the September 11 terrorists entered the United States on student visas or applied to extend their stays under the student-visa program, a point Mr. Borjas stressed in his report.
But the system's defenders said the schools aren't to blame for who gets approved for visas.
"Schools never have, don't today and don't purport to or aspire to be visa-issuing institutions," said Victor Johnson, public policy director for the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers. "Schools make academic determinations as to who's admissible to their institutions."
Mr. Johnson also said applications for student visas are not just rubber-stamped; he cited a recent year when the State Department rejected 28 percent of applications.
Mr. Borjas noted that foreign students have a much better chance of gaining permanent legal residence 13 percent from 1971 to 1991 than people who take such routes as the recently completed diversity lottery, which in 2000 had 10 million applicants for 50,000 slots.
The incentive for schools to attract foreign students is just as clear: Foreigners provide a good source of tuition-payers and cheap labor in graduate-department labs, he said.
But the incentive for the states to support the programs is less clear, Mr. Borjas said, arguing that taxpayers subsidize the expenses for the students.
He said even students paying "full tuition" don't cover the cost of their educations. At state schools, the government subsidy averages $9,200 a year, and at private schools it averages $6,400, he said. That results in a cost to taxpayers of $2.5 billion a year.
Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the numbers should prompt questions among state legislators.
"I think what Borjas' study really calls for is truth in advertising," he said. "You cannot say foreign students who attend the schools, who pay the full tuition, are a fiscal benefit."
But Mr. Johnson said they have figured the economy benefits to the tune of $11 billion a year, so even with the $2.5 billion subsidy, the net benefit is still a great deal.
"Subtract $2.5 billion of subsidy; it's down to $9 billion net benefit to the economy. That's OK with me if somebody wants to calculate it that way," he said.
Terry W. Hartle, vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education, said some of the questions the report raised are important, particularly those about government controls and the number of institutions able to issue the forms that begin the process for obtaining student visas.
Still, he said, the conclusions were "ideology masquerading as analysis" and said many of the items Mr. Borjas identified such as buying visas and staying after the visa runs out are problems with the overall immigration system.
Meanwhile, the bill Mr. Byrd blocked from consideration on the Senate floor would reverse a 1996 law that bars state colleges and universities from offering illegal immigrants in-state tuition and returns the decision to states' discretion.
It also allows students who meet certain requirements to have deportation orders rescinded and lets them jump to the head of the line for legal residency.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and sponsor of the bill, said when it passed committee last week that the measure would help those children who were brought here to grow up illegally "through no act of their own."
"They grow up to be contributors to society, working to better themselves and provide for their families. But the law denies them any chance, no matter what their individual accomplishments, to become lawful permanent residents," he said.
But immigration-reform groups say the bill is an insult to those who have followed the law.
"Illegal alien applicants would not only get green cards, in-state tuition and financial aid, but they'd be moved to the front of the line, ahead of people who've been waiting for years to come to the U.S. legally," said Dave Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform."It once again teaches people that those who don't play by the rules can get rewarded. What kind of lesson is that for students?"


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